Stephen King is going to disagree with me, but...plotting and outlines are totally necessary.
I don't feel 100% thrilled to say that. Don't get me wrong. I'm all for letting the floodgates open. I agree with Mr. King on at least his friendly criticism of fellow writer John Irving; I don't want to know the last sentence of a story. That sentence is going to change. But hey, to each his own, right?
Plotting isn't something I advocate for all fiction. A short story or flash fiction can work without it, especially with flash fiction when you're writing the whole thing in one sitting. My short story Roar Shack was done without a plot. I just meandered from one monster to the next.
However, The Coast - the novella I recently killed off - could have used a stronger outline. How do I know whether or not a story needs an outline? My cork board. If I end up plotting a story on a cork board, chances are it's going to be a longer work.
Even on the cork board, it's still a rough cloud of note cards. I did write a beat sheet for The Coast, but at the time, I had no idea what a real beat sheet was.
The UCLA class I'm taking - Beginning
Writing for the 1-Hour Spec Drama: Building the Story and the Outline (that's a mouthful) - has shown me it's hard work developing a story outline, but once it's set, the rest is just a matter of connecting the dots. I'll write another post at the end of class next month to give you guys a better idea of the process (since I'm still learning it from start to finish).
The bottom line is that it's easier to find and fix plot problems when you see the bones of the story.